Alaska – Alyeska – Day 2 (First time on two sticks in two years)

fireplace

This fireplace warmed me most nights as I drifted off

We got back to the house so late the night before the beds had been taken and I was relegated to couch surfing. I found out later the couches we as comfortable as the bunk beds if not more so. The downside: most of the guys were early risers and I was sleeping in the living room just off the kitchen. Luckily I had an ace in the hole. I brought my hearing protectors meant for firing guns and using loud machinery. Silence.is.golden. Tracy (one of the snow boarders from MN) later asked me if I had whale sounds piped through them. Nope. Just nothingness. I pulled my still tired carcass (mind you I technically went to bed at 6 AM my time) off the couch and was carried to the kitchen cartoon style on the wafts of bacon. Like any good Wisconsinite I started my day with a beermosa (beer and orange juice. don’t knock it till you try it), bacon and toast. Oh how I love vacation. The snowboarders (6 of them) had been there for a day and pulled their gear together lickity split. Us skiers (5 in all), having just arrived the day before, were a little slower and unsure of what we would need. I have skied the midwest primarily; it is cold as a witch’s heart, and the weather report said it would be around 30 F. Another little tip about Southern Alaska: It is technically a rain forest. 30 degrees there is not like 30 degrees here.

Overdressed and gitty with excitement I piled into Josh’s Jeep Liberty, a vehicle not made to carry five fully grown men and ski gear, but like so many clowns and East Berliners have done before, we made it to our destination a bit crammed and grateful to disembark. I had decided to leave my skis with Jackson since they are built for midwest skiing and would have been a nightmare in the powder, inspite of a low snow fall for that year, that covered the mountain. Alyeska‘s rental service is quite efficient and simple. You walk up to a PC, put in your details (height, weight, skill level, address, personal information, and credit card), and wait for your name to be called. I had multiple pairs of socks on so I registered for a size eleven boot, something I would pay for as the day went on since my foot slid around inside them (I’m a ten). They set my skis up and it was off to the first lift.

Top of the lift. Yes, that's the ocean

Top of the lift. Yes, that’s the ocean

At Alyeska they have RFID passes. You receive a little card which has a tiny chip in it . Each time you go to the lift you wave your pass over a small sensor and two little gates open allowing you to get on the chair. Very cool. However I was using the pass the bartender sold me night before. To my horror the gate didn’t open! I thought I had been had. I explained to the guys what was up and told them I would meet them at the top of the hill. Back at the chalet I spoke with a soft-spoken young lady at the front desk who explained I merely had to get the pass renewed. I learned what William Wallace already knows. Trust the Irish. So after much to-do about nothing, I was headed up a mountain in Alaska on a chair dangling from a cable with the intention to slide back down on two sticks. Hurrah!

The guys had waited for me and quickly we skied to the second lift to get above the tree line. A little perspective: I was the youngest guy on this trip and three out of the four other guys had been ski patrol (two at Steamboat in CO., one at Alyeska). The learning curve was steep as the slopes we were about to hit. Now as I said in the previous post Byron had been ski patrol at the resort and thusly had the inside line all over the mountain. Once we were at the top he got the 411 on where to go for the best snow and so forth. The north side of the mountain wasn’t quite open yet so we did some warm ups on the south side which at this point was largely groomers. Very quickly the ski patrol notified Byron the North Face was opening and we were able to follow them through the ropes marked with a sign denoting DANGER: You are entering an avalanche area. Ah, the relaxation of vacation. On the upside the signs did turn away less experienced downhillers leaving the snow untouched that much longer.

northfaceup

Tram Housing at the top of the north face

If you have ever skied powder, you know the remarkable bliss it is. If you have ever skied Alaskan powder you know the unparalleled bliss it is. Imagine water skiing but without waves, choppiness, wake, or swimsuit malfunctions. It.is.awesome. It buoys you up and leads you down the mountain with speed and care. Even falls are pleasant. This being said, while in powdery ecstasy watch for trees so as not to end up like Michael Kennedy (my apologies to any friends and family of the Kennedy’s who read this). Very quickly the powder was spent and so were our quads; to The Sitzmark we went.

sitzmarkceiling

The entire ceiling had original work like this on it.

The Sitzmark was the bar on the hill. It was constantly busy and we were forced to sit outside which was actually pretty welcome since we were sweating bullets from the day’s activities. Anyone who downhills knows there is a mark up at the chalet for food. Alaska has the Alaskan “we flew everything here” mark up tacked on. While  a bacon cheese burger was $13 (plus tip. never forget to tip people), the IPAs and Lagers were a comfortable $5. As one of the tram operators put it “We’re a drinking town with a skiing problem.” The Sitzmark had been there since the 70’s (I believe), had a full stage with regular concerts, three rooms including one with pool tables, a wrap around deck with a eternally burning flame, and high vaulted ceilings painted by local artists. Fun fact: Stizmark was a term coined when skiing was in its infancy and skiers wore 8 ft long 2″ by 4’s” for ski’s. Sometimes the only way to stop was to sit down. “Sitzmark” was the impression left by the skier in the snow.

After food and drinks it was back to hill for however long our legs would hold out. Let it be said the weather in Alaska at the very least keeps you on your toes. While we were at the bar the sun had peeped out and warmed our faces. By the time we were back on the lift, it had robed itself in a snow cloud. We finished the day with fresh snow covering our old tracks. Back to the house we headed for food, friends, and foosball. Yes, the house had a foosball table. Fantastic.

Drive fast, take chances, thanks for reading.

-Danger

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